Workers speak out on the minimum wage

Many who earn minimum wage — or close to it — have joined the debate about the future of pay in Minneapolis

Workers have already been an influential force in the minimum wage debate in Minneapolis, organizing to help place a minimum wage charter amendment on the ballot last fall, and they have been increasingly active as city staff prepare a draft ordinance for the City Council.

Among those who earn the minimum wage — or close to it — there are a variety of views on how the city should move forward. Whether or not a local minimum wage ordinance should include a carve-out for tipped employees — typically called a “tip penalty” or a “tip credit” — has provoked strong reactions on either side.

Some of those workers recently share their stories with the Journals.

Arradondo. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Arradondo. Photo by Dylan Thomas

CARRIE ARRADONDO

Lives: Northern suburbs

Works: Bartender and server at Ike’s and restaurant Max in the Hotel Minneapolis, about 55 hours per week

Earns: Minimum wage plus tips, averaging about $20 an hour in total

Arradondo, 51, said she’s spent “pretty much (her) entire life” in the restaurant industry, starting at age 19. She would be opposed to a minimum wage increase if it didn’t include a carve-out for tipped workers.

“I think, first of all, a place like the hotel could probably absorb it, but a smaller place like Ike’s, they’re going to be in trouble, because that’s a massive payroll increase,” she said. “I do think it would be nice to have an increase for non-tipped employees, but if it’s across the board and everyone has a huge increase, I think the possible consequences — of course we don’t know what will happen — but they could be worse than just leaving it where it’s at.”

Arradondo predicted those consequences could include “a significant number” of restaurants closing, and many career servers and bartenders leaving for jobs in St. Paul or the suburbs. She’d be one of them.

“I wouldn’t do this for $15 an hour,” Arradondo said.

“Years ago, there used to be a sub-minimum (wage) for tipped employees, and I would say overall in those days I made a lot more money,” she said. “Employers weren’t concerned with overtime, because your pay wasn’t significant enough to matter, and you were able to have one job because you could work overtime. A lot of places let that slide.

“Now, it’s absolutely nobody gets overtime, so you need to piece together two jobs sometimes if you want to make a decent living.”

Devora. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Devora. Photo by Dylan Thomas

ANDREA DEVORA

Lives: Minneapolis

Works: Young Joni and Cosmos, about 25 hours per week

Earns: Minimum wage plus tips, averaging about $40 an hour in total

Devora began advocating for a tip credit (also known as a tip penalty) through Service Industry Staff for Change because, she said, she views the issue as “life or death” for her 20-year career in the restaurant industry.

“I have a special-needs child. Most of those costs are out-of-pocket,” Devora said. “At the end of the day, it just isn’t feasible. We won’t be able to live on $15 an hour.

“I was a paralegal in conjunction with those first 10 years I was in those industry. This is a better fit for me. That’s why I left corporate America. I will have to go back and try to figure out how to work a desk job while being a special-needs parent.”

Devora, who began her career at restaurants in Manhattan and Philadelphia, said Minneapolis didn’t have the economic base to support servers who earn $15 an hour.

“It isn’t on par with Manhattan, it’s not on par with San Francisco or Napa Valley or even Miami. And those are huge markets for the food and beverage industry, but they’re also supported by the economic structure of the community,” she said. “We just don’t have that here.”

But Devora was adamant that her non-tipped coworkers deserved a higher wage.

“We’re all pushing for back-of-house and the wait assists and the barista down the street to make that $15 an hour,” she said. “I don’t need that. I’m doing just fine.”

Tapia. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Tapia. Photo by Dylan Thomas

PASCUAL TAPIA

Lives: Minneapolis

Works: Cleaning the downtown Target for Prestige Maintenance USA, 40 hours a week

Earns: $12.45

Tapia, who was born in Mexico, offered his thoughts on a higher minimum wage through an interpreter at Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL). He has also been active in various campaigns through CTUL, including efforts to raise Minneapolis’ minimum wage.

“Working the overnight shift is really hard for us folks who have to work that shift,” Tapia said. “I think we deserve to make more money. I think we deserve to have our wages raised to $15 an hour.

“On a more personal note, if I was making $15 an hour I would be able to help my family a lot more. I have family in Mexico and a son who is sick with an illness, and having more money would help me help them more.”

Tapia came to the U.S. alone, leaving behind his wife and children. He sends back at least half of every paycheck and sometimes more, supporting eight people on his earnings.

“What happens is, when my son gets ill in Mexico, that’s typically when I have to send more money, and I don’t have the money. So, what happens is that I borrow money from my friends, and then a paycheck I get when rent is not due, I pay them back. And then it happens again, and it’s just a cycle,” he said. “My friends borrow money as well. We’re all struggling. So, it’s just this cycle where we’re all borrowing money to make ends meet.”

“If I was making $15 an hour, I could probably break out of this cycle and I’d have enough money.”

Thomas. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Thomas. Photo by Dylan Thomas

SERENA THOMAS

Lives: Minneapolis

Works: Server and bartender at Spoonriver, about 25 hours a week; organizer for Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, about 20 hours a week

Earns: $10 an hour plus tips, averaging $80 in tips per shift at Spoonriver; $17–$18 an hour for ROC

Being employed both as a server and as a part-time organizer advocating for a minimum wage increase without a carve-out for tipped employees has occasionally put Thomas in an awkward position. In March, her restaurant signed on to the Pathway to $15 campaign, a restaurant industry effort to include what is alternately known as a “tip credit” or “tip penalty” in any local minimum wage ordinance.

“We’ve talked about it and had some difficult moments — just because it’s my other job,” she said. “I don’t really organize (at Spoonriver), I just talk about my political views sometimes.”

Many expect the minimum wage ordinance presented to the City Council later this year to include a phase-in of higher wages, probably over a period of years. But Thomas said other servers often assume restaurants would instantly be required to hike the pay of all their employees.

“I agree, yes, if it was next day it would be very bad for a lot of businesses out there,” she said.

Thomas, 25, said she is “comfortable” on her current earnings.

“Random things happen, and I had some savings — a little bit — and something happened, and all that went away. That’s expected, but if I had more money I would have more savings,” she said. “I can’t imagine those people who work at industry jobs who make less money in tips than me. They’re looking at two full-time jobs just to earn the same.”

Love-Jones. Submitted photo
Love-Jones. Submitted photo

SANDRA LOVE-JONES

Lives: Minneapolis

Works: Unemployed; recently employed as a cashier at Broadway Liquor, about 25 hours a week

Earns: $10.00 an hour at her most recent job, plus tips that totaled up to $20 per shift

Love-Jones, 26, said she has worked a series of minimum-wage jobs in retail, movie theaters and sports stadium concessions. Her low and inconsistent earnings have made progress toward a degree at Minneapolis Community and Technical College slow going.

“I didn’t have enough for nothing,” she said. “I pay $952 for rent in North Minneapolis. I’m bringing home $600 a paycheck, so I’m living check to check. It’s a struggle, an everyday struggle — trying to figure out if I’m going to have enough for my phone bill, not knowing if I’m going to have enough for my electricity bill. I can’t pay my phone bill and my internet bill; it’s one or the other.”

Love-Jones said living on minimum wage is stressful. She has missed out on better-paying jobs in the suburbs because she can’t afford a vehicle.

“The places that are trying to hire me are not on the bus line. Simple stuff like that,” she said. “I don’t make enough to purchase a vehicle and pay for car insurance and gas so I can get a job.”

Love-Jones said, in her experience, a minimum wage that is not enough to live on makes people desperate, leading some to crime.

“We sell drugs, or instead of paying for the clothes we need for our kids or ourselves we have to go out and steal them, because we can’t really afford them,” she said. “Low minimum wage forces crime. It forces us to fight among each other to survive instead of live.”

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  • J. Jones

    Time to do away with the tip system.

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